As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reading about writing productivity recently, as well as general strategies for improving the quality of one’s writing. One of the things I’ve stumbled upon is Rachel Aaron’s post on how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10 000 words a day. As she states in her post, 10 000 words a day is an extreme: a full-time author with several books under her belt. She has more time than most of us to write, and she has more experience with writing. Even so, the strategies she provides are the kind of thing anyone can do to improve their writing productivity.
Two of them are fairly obvious when you think about it: time and enthusiasm. Find the time you write the best at (or as well as you can if you’re working a 9-5), and find your enthusiasm for what you’re writing. Susan Dennard calls these parts of the book “magical cookies”. What both authors say is you should find, in every scene you write, the things that make you want to write the book. This isn’t particularly unique or earth-shattering advice. It’s something that never occurred to me until I read it, but now, of course, it’s painfully obvious: if you’re not enjoying writing it, no one’s going to enjoy reading it. So make sure you enjoy the writing!
Onto the third (or first in her list) strategy from Rachel Aaron. Knowledge. Put simply, you should know what you’re going to write before you write it. And not just a vague idea, but a detailed plan. Reading this was one of those “d’oh!” moments for me, because while I’ve never done much outlining (I’m kind of awful about writing notes in general; I’ve just got everything in my head), I definitely do find it easier to write when I have a clearer idea of what I will write. I’m also more likely to know what the magical cookies are.
When I haven’t written in a few weeks (or months …) and sit down bursting to get the words out, I can chuck out 1500 words in an hour. Part of this is the enthusiasm mentioned above, but it’s also because by the time I’ve gotten around to sitting down and writing I’ve played the scene out in my head on the drive to work, memorised snippets of dialogue and description, and just generally gotten an idea of what’s going to happen. For the same reason, after a week or two of writing consistently I start to struggle. I’ve reached the limit of what I’ve had thought out in my head while daydreaming and have to actually work out what happens next.
This is a problem I’ve struggled with since I started writing. I can’t outline, because I don’t know what’s going to happen well enough in advance. I get to know my characters by writing them, so I don’t know what they’re going to do until I start writing them. Sometimes they surprise me. Fortunately, Rachel Aaron has a simple solution for those of us who don’t outline. And it’s an outline. Yes, I appreciate the irony, but this isn’t some big hulking document detailing what’s going to happen in the entire book. It’s an outline of the next scene you’re going to write and, crucially, it works out the twists and turns of the scene so you know where you’re ending up at the end of the scene and, most importantly, how you’re going to get there. Susan Dennard (you may have gathered by now that I love her blog – and her books!) calls this “headlights outlining“. Sometimes I find this really hard to do. This is generally a sign that that scene is just wrong as I’ve envisioned it, and it’s time to find the magical cookies. I’m also struggling to do it consistently because I write first thing in the morning, and I have limited time to write, so I don’t want to waste even five precious minutes outlining, even though I know that five minutes spent outlining will mean the remaining 25 minutes will produce more and better-quality writing.
If you’ve ever sat down to write and not known how to get your characters out of the mess they’re in, then you should read point 1 in Aaron’s post. If you’ve ever felt like your writing time could be more productive, read the entire post. The great thing about Aaron’s approach is that there are three strategies that, used together, are vastly beneficial (and there’s some inter-dependency between them), but even one of the three can help get you unstuck.